Getting used to the future.
For a quick lesson in how to strike fear into the hearts of your staff, try ending your next meeting with this phrase: "Oh, by the way, tomorrow we will begin to see some changes around here.' While the change in question may be something as minor as a lab cleanup, it's a fair bet that most employees will conjure up visions of some radical move that bodes ill for them and their jobs.
It's almost as though human nature looks upon change as something intrinsically bad, to be avoided at all costs. Fear of the unknown prompts this reaction, of course. It is easier to rationalize that we are comfortable with the old analyzer that breaks down every other day, or used to the laboratory work schedule, no matter how inefficient. In reality, we're not that comfortable with the status quo, but we are more uncomfortable with the thought of altering it.
Not that we haven't had plenty of practice. No other generation in history has had to deal with as much change as ours. Over the past few decades, we have all experienced overwhelming changes in these three broad categories.
Culture. Recent years have seen a revolution in the way people perceive and interact with one another. In this category are major social and political upheavals like the civil rights and women's movements, along with countless smaller transformations in lifestyle, fashion, and entertainment.
Legislations. More than ever, government takes part in our everyday lives. In addition to the basic laws governing our conduct in society, we have witnessed the birth of numerous regulations covering everything from the way we run our businesses to the food and medication we take.
Technology. These are some of the easiest changes to identify. In this era of space exploration, it is hard to believe that man only learned to fly at the beginning of this century, or that the ubiquitous pocket calculator took up a roomful of wires and vacuum tubes just a few years ago. The list goes on and on.
Change in each category has altered all our lives to varying degrees. In the laboratory, however, all three types of changes have had a tremendous impact, and played a major role in shaping the practice of lab management.
We can observe social and cultural transformations in today's push by laboratory personnel for true professional recognition. For years, lab employees were willing to take a back seat to other professionals on this issue, but no more. It seems more than coincidental that, in a field dominated by women, this needed change in professional image and status has paralleled the growth of the women's rights movement.
Lately, legislative changes have taken the spotlight with the advent of prospective payment and other limits on government health care spending. Suddenly, laboratories must adjust to the concept that more isn't necessarily better when it comes to testing. The laboratory, once viewed as a revenue generator, is now looked on as a cost center, with reduced spending as a primary goal.
And has any hospital department --or any other business, for that matter--seen more technological changes than the laboratory has in the past few decades? Today, virtually every section of the lab contains some type of computerized, automated equipment. Technologists who began their careers 15 or 20 years ago have had to switch from a handson, cookbook mode of operation to one of equipment monitoring and data evaluation.
It's clear that anyone working in a laboratory these days must be highly adaptable. Successful managers and supervisors, in turn, are those capable of introducing change constructively.
Fortunately, the demand for change seldom occurs overnight, and neither should its implementation. We must acquire the skill of introducing change in a logical, step-by-step process.
Lack of communication is probably the most common fundamental mistake in this process. People are far more receptive to change when they know why it was needed in the first place. Employees want specific information on how it will affect them and their work habits. Consider the emotional as well as the operational impact of change. Hold advance meetings with affected staff members to explain the reasons behind a change and your need for their support.
Next, after communicating the whys, supervisors must get down to the nuts and bolts of who, how, and when. This is where the managerial skills of delegation and training are vital. Successful change will only result from a coordinated group effort.
After planning and implementation comes what may be the hardest phase of any change-- controlling the outcome. Here you must evaluate the impact of the laboratory's actions, and make any needed adjustments. Supervisors may have to overcome the "See, I told you it wouldn't work' attitude that they will undoubtedly encounter in some of their less flexible employees. Don't view such adjustments as failures, but as midcourse corrections in your voyage to the future.
None of us will be able to cope with the environment of the 1980s, in health care or elsewhere, without realizing that change is inevitable, that it isn't necessarily bad, and that it's happening at an accelerating pace. As effective managers, we must encourage our employees to meet change head on, and to manage it before it turns and begins to manage us.
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|Author:||Maratea, James M.|
|Publication:||Medical Laboratory Observer|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1984|
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